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Reaching 20,000

It seemed fitting that a milestone of 20,000 miles should be celebrated with an epic ride.

I bought my Giant back in 2005 when I was living in Colorado. I was riding a lot, and it was a huge upgrade to the bike I was riding at the time. I remember the first month I had it, I put one thousand miles on it. Since then, it’s done countless mountain ascents/descents, a little bit of racing, normal road miles and a fair amount of commuter miles. Each year, I even celebrate its birthday – the day I picked it up new from the shop. I don’t have a dog or kids, so something needs to be doted upon, right?

Back in July of this year, I rode the One Helluva Ride. This is an event held yearly by the Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society. Hundreds of people show up for a non-competitive ride through scenic countryside. This was the second year I had ridden in this event, and had to improve upon my personal distance record set the year before of 144 miles. So the morning of the ride, I woke up early, got ready, then rode 20 miles to Chelsea for the start of the ride. I then did the 100 mile route, then took an extended way home, finishing the day with a grand total of 150 miles. That was the minimum goal of the day; the heat and a lack of solid food stopped me from doing more. Sports drinks and gels and gummy chews could only sustain me for so long before my stomach needed something more substantial. I finished the ride mostly content with what I had accomplished, but knew that my limit was still beyond than what I had reached that day.

After the Helluva Ride, I kept on riding, watching my bike’s odometer grow ever closer to the 20k mark. I knew that I had to do something special when it ticked over. With daylight diminishing, I eased off and started to make plans for a celebration ride. I told myself I had to do at least 200 miles. I took a week off to recuperate and mapped out my route. It would be three big loops: the first two would get me halfway to my goal, and my odometer would turn over 20k at that point; I’d stop at the girlfriend’s house for lunch before the third loop, which would be over 100 miles.

My morning began at 6am at the girlfriend’s house. When my alarm went off, the gf’s dog, usually filled with unbridled exuberance when I wake, did nothing more than eye me with annoyance. I stumbled down the stairs and ate breakfast: two slices of leftover pizza and some whey protein drink to wash it down. Breakfast of champions right there. I then put on my kit and stuffed my pockets with a variety of bars, gels, and gummies. Shortly after sunrise, I headed out the door into the brisk morning air. I headed through Ann Arbor and then went north up to Whitmore Lake  The warm morning sun peeking through the trees compelled me to ditch my windproof vest in the parking lot of an abandoned gas station, as there was no room in my jersey pockets. Once in Whitmore Lake, I headed east through Salem and ended up in Northville. I passed a high school cross country meet off of Heins Drive and hooked up to 5 Mil,e taking me past a posh hotel and, a few miles down the road, an abandoned prison. I headed up a long hill with a huge garbage dump on my left. Once I was back on 7 Mile, I rode back to Whitmore Lake and picked up my vest I had ditched earlier, brushing off the rollie pollies that had been using it as their new home. By this point, I was about 60 miles into the ride and was feeling great. Energy levels felt good and my legs didn’t feel fatigued at all. With the first loop done, I headed through Ann Arbor again and went south to Saline. I stopped at a gas station outside of Saline to fill up my water bottles. The clerk asked me how far I was going today. I told him the plan was 200. “Dude, that’s crazy. I could go like, four.”

The second loop took me through more picturesque country roads. It was around the 80 mile mark that I reach my first hurdle. In an effort to remain well-hydrated, I learned – after the fact, of course – that the stomach can only handle so much sports drink before it gets upset and feels really heavy. I tried to eat a Clif Bar, but I could only get half of one down before my stomach decided that that was enough for now. I finished the Saline loop and headed back to the girlfriend’s house for lunch, beating the impending rain by minutes. When I rolled up, I had done 95 miles and my odometer was just a few miles short of 20k. The girlfriend was nice enough to have a bunch of tacos waiting for me. They should have been decimated like a ravenous Kobayashi at a hot dog buffet, but because my stomach was feeling so heavy I could only eat two. Frustrated at my inability to eat, I looked outside at the pouring rain and couldn’t help but question my resolve.

I had gotten a later than expected start in the morning and wanted to minimise my time spent riding in the dark on the way back home from the final loop. I headed out into the rain, not in the best of moods, but didn’t want all my effort thus far to be in vain. After riding through town and hooking up with Huron Drive drive, the odometer clicked over 20k. I slowed to a stop, pulled over, and took a picture. Rain accompanied me to Dexter and further on to Chelsea. I turned north onto M52 and headed up to Stockbridge. By this point the rain had subsided, but the earlier downpour and wet roads were enough to have me decently soaked. I stopped at a gas station in Stockbridge and bought more sport drink and a bottle of MuscleMilk. The next 30 miles or so was a segment of one of the routes from the Helluva Ride. The country roads were delightfully desolate. There was a stretch of road were I remember spinning along, enjoying the scenery, happy with my decision to keep riding after lunch. My legs that were still functioning well, I’d gotten down some Clif Shot Bloks, and with the colors of the scenery painted in twilight, I felt a smile come across my face. I looked down at my trip distance and it read 155 miles.

Winding and unfamiliar road finally led to an intersection I was very familiar with outside of Waterloo. I looked down at my trip computer: 167 miles. Aye, there’s the rub. Do I go right and maybe not make the goal distance of 200, or do I go straight to do a loop around Waterloo, making the goal distance at the expense of having to ride more miles in the dark? I’m not unfamiliar with riding in the dark, but even though my light was completely charged, I couldn’t remember how long it would last on its different settings. I did some quick mental math with some of the remaining distances and decided to go straight, battery life be damned. After a quick lap around Waterloo, I hydrated in Chelsea, stopping at a coffeehouse I frequent called Zou Zou’s, and began to head into the darkness.

It was now 8:30, 180 miles in, and completely dark. A small patch of light from my NiteRider illuminated the road before me. I came in contract with few cars. My stomach was feeling better from the water I had in Chelsea, and I shot down a packet of sport beans. My legs were feeling tired but still had more to give. With my energy levels still good and suddenly graced with a small tailwind, I hunkered down in the drops and kept my pace around 21 mph. I hooked onto Huron River Drive and powered on.

The absence of daylight brought heightened awareness of little subtleties. The gossamers hanging from my shifter cables, glittering from my headlight. The kamikaze bugs flying into me. The hum of my tires. The feel of my breath moving over my tongue. The trees subsided for a brief moment and I looked over to my left and above the Huron River lay a blanket of stars. I smiled, savoring the simple, beautiful moment, the most lasting memory from that day.

I rode through downtown Ann Arbor, past the boisterous nightlife, and headed up a long, gradual incline to the girlfriend’s house. My legs were tired from fast pace of the last 20 miles, but still weren’t toast. I was still very awake and alert. I turned onto her street and rode up to her front door. My hair was matted from my helmet in a ridiculous pattern; my eyes were bloodshot from not wearing sunglasses; gnat speckle frosted my face and arms. The dog barked and she opened the door.

“I made it.”

I feel happy that I was able to reach my goal and do sometime special to celebrate my bike’s milestone. After being sick the week before, I was somewhat surprised that my legs were able to hold up so well. I was also surprised that I was able to ride so far on so little food. Having discovered the culprit over the course of the day (too much sports drink), I feel better prepared for the next time that I go on a long, long ride. I never felt exhausted throughout the day, and finished with energy to spare. My limit lies beyond the 200 mile mark, so I’m optimistic that next summer I’ll be able to push myself and find out what that may be.